Shrek 4 Wins Memorial Day Box Office Derby, While Sex and the City 2 and Prince of Persia Crash

Usually the above picture would make me sad, but Allison is actually napping again! For the record, this will all be related to the three-day weekend, as the four-day holiday numbers have of course not been released yet (four-day totals will be updated as they come in). As expected, Shrek: The Final Chapter was able to easily surpass Sex and the City 2 to take the weekend crown over Memorial Day weekend. The contest on Friday was close enough that Shrek: Forever After was able to capitalize on strong family matinee business as well as the HBO sequel's downward plunge. In the end, the three day total is $43.3 million and the five-day total is $55.7 million. That's a drop of 38% from last weekend's disappointing three-day $70 million opening sprint. Since every single Shrek picture opened on the same weekend, the comparisons are easy to make. For reference, the first Shrek actually increased 0.4% over its second weekend, grossing $42.4 million in its second, holiday-inflated frame. The second picture set a record for the largest non-opening weekend of all-time, grossing $72.1 million and dropping just 33% (it's still the third-biggest second weekend, behind The Dark Knight's $75 million and Avatar's $77 million second-weekends). The third picture was beset by poor word of mouth and the monstrous opening weekend of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End ($114 million over Fri-Sun), plunging 56% from $121 million to $53 million in its second frame.

But the fourth Shrek picture was able to soften the drop, aided both by the much-smaller opening weekend (IE - more people to sample the film this weekend), as well as the relative audience disinterest in the opening pictures. The combined opening weekends of Prince of Persia and Sex and the City 2 was around $62 million, or just over half what Pirates of the Caribbean 3 made by itself over its first three days. Where the fourth Shrek picture ends up at this point is an open question, but the impressive second-weekend means that the franchise has saved a token amount of face after the comparatively disappointing opening weekend. It has now grossed $145.5 million by Monday, but it is badly trailing the prior sequels in total amount grossed by the tenth day ($133 million vs. $236 million for Shrek 2 and $203 million for Shrek the Third), and it in fact grossed less on its second Sunday ($14.9 million) than the first Shrek grossed on its tenth day ($18.1 million) nine years ago. Whether or not it can get to the $220 million plateau (so that all four of the highest-grossing Dreamworks cartoons would be Shrek pictures) will largely depend on how well it weathers the direct demo-competition of Marmaduke next weekend.

The expected weekend winner was Sex and the City 2, which stumbled badly as the weekend wore on. Despite being number one going into Saturday, it ended up in third place for the four-day holiday, just behind Prince of Perisa: The Sands of Time. It did not defeat the infamous TV-adaptation sequel curse after all. Warner basically opened this sequel on the same weekend as two summers ago, it's just that Memorial Day fell a week later this time around. Alas, it's a lot harder to plan a womens' night out over a weekend where the whole family is in town, or you're out of town visiting said family (the film played 90% female, compared to the 83% female audience of the original's opening weekend). After (stupidly) opening on a Thursday and sucking away most of the hardcore fans on the pre-weekend day, the film had to settle for second place, with $32 million over the Fri-Sun portion. The film grossed $27 million over its first two days, so compressing those numbers into an opening Friday would have easily allowed the film to top the box office and earn bragging rights. Same thing with Terminator: Salvation last year: $60 million over four days is more impressive than $65 million over five days (hopefully Warner will learn next time). Said Thursday opening caused that film to lose the box office crown to Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian.

Sex and the City 2 has pulled in $46 million in four days, and it's expected to gross about $51.4 million by the end of the holiday. So the second film took five days to pull in a token amount less than what the first picture grossed in three days. Not good, especially as the sequel cost $30 million more than the original ($95 million this time around). Five-day multipliers are difficult to compare, since only two other films opened on the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend. But Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull pulled a tidy 6x multiplier, posting a $25 million opening day and a $152 million five-day haul. Terminator: Salvation posted a 4.8x multiplier over its five days. Sex and the City 2 managed just a 3.61x multiplier. It wouldn't be a ghastly figure, but the relatively low daily numbers and the apparently poisonous word of mouth meant that the franchise may just be playing to the absolute hard-cores from here on out. Expect a massive drop next weekend as well as an obscenely-low opening weekend-to-final gross multiplier.

Third place for the three-day weekend, but second place for the four-day weekend, went to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Costing $200 million, the relatively mediocre Iraq-war parable (the bad guys coerce the good guys to invade and occupy a sovereign land in search of non-existent weapons, and then use private mercenaries to kill their way to the desired treasure) grossed just $30.1 million in its opening three days and $37.8 million in its opening four (which makes the puts the picture in second place, ahead of Sex and the City 2's $37.1 million Fri-Mon holiday weekend gross). The trailers and TV spots highlighted a lack of swashbuckling and adventure, while the print campaign seemed entirely based around Jake Gyllenhaal's six-pack and Gemma Arterton's breasts (the ads seemed to be a cynical attempt to snag female audiences by touting: "sure this movie looks boring, but look how ripped that dude from Brokeback Mountain is!'). In truth, much of the action was too bloody to use in a general-audiences trailer (it's PG-13, but more graphic than The Mummy or Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl). And the obnoxiously forced character interaction between the would-be romantic leads (Arterton's every line screams "FEISTY" in the most condescending manner) only made audiences take back the mean things that said about Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley.

The movie looked terrible, the reviews were lousy, and the film had no real 'wow' moments, let alone any Jack Sparrow-ish wit or Brendan Fraser-ish bemusement, to put in a trailer. And, on a final note, the relatively small opening of Shrek IV was probably the final nail in the coffin. Had more people sampled the fourth Shrek last weekend, Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time would have been the likely choice of families going to the movies over the holiday weekend. But with so many passing on Shrek last weekend, it became the de facto safe choice for general moviegoing families, leaving the way-too-expensive video game adaptation in the not-so-magic dust. As I said yesterday, Disney spent Dead Man's Chest money on a proverbial Curse of the Black Pearl, and they will pay dearly for it. I'm not the first to say this (Dave Poland of Movie City News called this back in February), but I'd imagine that Disney knew it had a turkey on its hands, which is what perhaps caused it to rush the $1 billion-grossing Alice in Wonderland onto DVD/Blu Ray in a relatively short 88 days.

Want more than just the top three movies? Read the rest of this box office analysis at Mendelson's Memos.